So, let’s start at the back, with a story from June 2005 from New Scientist, headlined “Why your brain has a Jennifer Aniston cell‘:
Obsessed with reruns of the TV sitcom Friends? Well then you probably have at least one “Jennifer Aniston cell” in your brain, suggests research on the activity patterns of single neurons in memory-linked areas of the brain. The results point to a decades-old and dismissed theory tying single neurons to individual concepts and could help neuroscientists understand the elusive human memory.
Jolly good. And now, the Telegraph (and Daily Mail and others), this week (being October 2008): ‘Jennifer Aniston neuron’ shows how we react to celebrity faces, which in the Telegraph explains:
The “Jennifer Aniston neuron”, as it has been dubbed, helps explain why we are able to recognise familiar faces so quickly.
When shown a picture of the Friends actress, a particular cell in people’s brains is fired up. Photos of other celebrities – such as Halle Berry, Tom Cruise or Oprah Winfrey – spark a reaction in entirely different cells, the study by neuroscientists at the University of Leicester showed.
(© loads of papers.) But why so many, and why now?
Turns out it came from a press release, from Medical News Today, which goes
A leading neuroscientist and bio-engineer, whose research was recently cited among the top papers in the world, is to reveal details of his studies into what has been dubbed the ‘Jennifer Aniston neuron’ during a public presentation at the University of Leicester.
Which leads us, in a roundabout way, to Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross and Andrew Sachs and resignings-before-sackings and so on. Apart from the criticism of the people who so, so wrongly gave it the nod against the wishes of Sachs, I’ve seen criticisms saying “But everyone had ignored it until the Mail on Sunday ran its story – it was old news! It was nothing until they got onto it!”
Surprisingly, some of this came from journalists. The fact is, of course, that (in newspapers) “news is what the reader doesn’t yet know, but you can persuade them they want to”. Doesn’t matter if it’s ten minutes, ten days or ten years (even ten decades) old. Look at how the Sunday Times held its George Osborne/Mandelson/yacht story for weeks, waiting for the right angle – or time – to come along.
It’s easy to forget that it’s not always about getting the news to people instantly. If the Ross/Brand story had gone onto the Mail’s site on the Saturday evening after it went out, what could it have written? “Comic makes offensive joke”? Sometimes these things need to stew a bit. News is sometimes instant. But sometimes, it tastes better cooked slow.
Which isn’t an argument for not then getting it up on your website and telling the world about it. Only for not mistaking instantaneity with impact.